On Being Homeless

Photo via pointfocussnap on Tumblr.

Next door to my apartment building, there’s a single family home. There used to be a woman who lived in that house, but she either died or moved into a nursing home. Her relatives came and cleared out all the stuff of value. It sat vacant for a few months until a notice of demolition went up.

Once that notice went up, the homeless moved in. Almost the next day, as if he was trolling the City of LA website for demolition notices, a man with a shopping cart moved in. One man became three, three turned into a dozen people, both men and women.

I used to be one of them. These Los Angeles homeless people have no idea how good they have it. I was homeless in Detroit during the winter.

Like most homeless people, I didn’t start off that way. For me, the state of being homeless started with a serious drug addiction. I became addicted to crack cocaine, because that’s what was around. On practically every street corner in Detroit, you could find an entrepreneur who had it. Crack was cheap, addictive, and readily available.

In order for one of the most addictive and problematic drugs to seem like a good idea, you need to have a combination of at least two of the following factors: 1) you have to be young and naïve while simultaneously thinking you know everything; 2) you must have someone around who has done it before, wants to do it again, and doesn’t mind showing you what to do; 3) you need a readily available supply along with all the accoutrements; 4) you have to simply not give a fuck about anything, especially your own life and continuing to live it. Check, check, check, and check.

Not that I had much money to begin with, but everything I had went to getting high, including rent money. That’s only sustainable for so long. Eventually, your landlord is going to want some money for squatting on their property. I stopped paying rent in the summer. By autumn, my landlord had gone to court to get me out. Since utilities were included with the rent I wasn’t paying, he shut them off including heat, electricity, water, and gas. One day, I came home to find all of my stuff piled up on the street under a blanket of freshly fallen snow.

I grabbed what I could and parceled it out amongst my neighbors. I couch surfed for a while until I ran out of couches. I lived in my car until it broke down on the freeway. I just left it there and walked away with what I could carry. I moved into an abandoned house across the street from my preferred drug dealer. The house had no heat, electricity, running water, or intact windows. It was cold and dark and damp, but I wasn’t alone. There were a few other crackheads who lived there too.

During the day, we’d scrounge around the city of Detroit looking for empty bottles or cans we could trade for the ten cents each. If you found ten, you had a dollar. If you found a hundred, you had enough to buy a small bag of crack. But, there were only so many cans and bottles lying around, so I had to come up with some other way to earn money. The only thing I had of value was myself, so I started selling that. Sometimes, I’d skip the middle man and trade with people in the drug dealer’s house. Sometimes, I’d have to stand outside in the freezing cold.

I wear glasses or contacts. I wore one contact for a while having lost the other one. Then I just wore glasses. One day, my glasses were destroyed while I was high, so I wore nothing. I walked around the city of Detroit blind as a bat. It probably was a good thing that I couldn’t see what was happening to me. Everything was fuzzy anyway, with or without glasses.

I didn’t eat much. Drugs were more important than food, but you have to eat something. I applied for section 8 housing assistance, which didn’t come through until I was no longer homeless, and food stamps, which I got almost immediately. Since you can’t redeem food stamps for anything but food, I started eating some, however, you could also trade food stamps for cash or drugs, so guess where most of my food stamps went… By the time I was done being homeless, I weighed barely 100 pounds (45.36 kg) and I’m 5’9″ (175.26 cm).

So, I was eighteen years old, blind, emaciated, always freezing cold, always wanting more drugs, and without a single penny to my name. Still, I was luckier than some, because one phone call to my parents could have ended it all. Eventually, that’s what happened. You can read about why I stopped being a homeless, drug addicted prostitute here if you are so inclined.

Being homeless is no fun, not even in sunny Los Angeles. I look at those people in the house next door and I’m sure a lot of them are in similar circumstances as I was. They’re either addicted to drugs, have unchecked mental health problems, they’ve just had a lot of unlucky breaks, they have no one to call to bring them home or some combination thereof. One can never really know or judge another person’s experience.

Still, I look at them and think of myself. I think of how it could have ended any number of other ways for me, none of them good. I could have easily died either from drugs or the lifestyle. I could be just another statistic in the drug related deaths column. I’m lucky.